When I started reading this year's entries to Vita.mn's fourth Annual Summer Story Contest, I was having a very bad week. A guy from my anger management class had just sold me a defective Taser, I'd gotten a rash from foam dancing and my neighbor Gary kept kicking my ass in badminton. Even after I huffed two cans of spray duster, I wasn't in a particularly good mood.
But then I started reading. And reading. The theme for this year's contest was the "Seven Deadly Sins," and as I pored over the 260 (!) entries my problems seemed to slide away. There were a bunch of memorable characters that helped me from my funk -- a delightfully angry office worker whose wrath is the only thing she has in common with her boyfriend, a lovelorn baby back rib eater who tries to impress his ex-girlfriend through his gluttony, a lustful lady named Hot Sauce who is ready and willing to sit down on a cake in a sexual way. There was also a story about the ancient art of fox tossing, which made me want to try fox tossing very, very soon.
In the end, Vita.mn's nine judges chose Regan Smith's "Spud" as the $750 first-prize winner. "Spud" is a wonderfully strange parable about a potato that sprouts arms and legs and becomes an unwitting household servant. Smith sells the fantastic elements to the reader with a dose of humor, and then she ratchets up the Kafkaesque drama. The story's brilliance lies in its ability to straddle the line of storytelling and social commentary but not drift too much toward either camp. There's a great payoff here, too -- Smith's ending is a masterful twist that showcases just how paralyzing and deadly the sin of sloth actually is.
Summer Story Contest coordinator John Jodzio is the author of the short-story collections "If You Lived Here You'd Already Be Home" and "Get In If You Want to Live." He lives in Minneapolis.
Vita.mn Summer Story Contest judges: Jay Boller, Simon Peter Groebner, Tim Ikeman, Kat Kluegel, Will Martin, Alexis McKinnis, Leslie Plesser, Jenna Ross and Jennie Schlossman. The judges read the finalists' stories with the authors' names removed. Twenty contest authors read their stories on Wednesday night at Hell's Kitchen, where a $250 "audience favorite" was selected. Find out who won and read honorable mentions at www.vita.mn.